Time seemed to drag on as Brian Gionta dragged across the net in the second period of the Buffalo Sabres' game against the Florida Panthers on Monday night. It was clear that Gionta, in alone, had a chance to score, but the window had begun to close as he drifted through the crease and away from the Florida goal.
We've seen Gionta score in that situation before, and this time he was able to bank the puck into the net off of Florida's Jason Demers. It was the perfect moment to highlight a memorable night for the Sabres captain, one that began with him being honored for his 1,000th NHL game with his family on the ice and ended with the Sabres celebrating a 4-2 victory.
Gionta became the third Sabre to score a goal in his 1,000th NHL game, following in the footsteps of Gilbert Perreault and Phil Russell.
"It was an emotional night," Gionta said. "A great thing the organization did and my teammates being a part of it was pretty special but, seeing my family being out there was pretty emotional and just happy to have go through it and have them share in the moment."
Video: Gionta on the postgame show
Ryan O'Reilly, Zach Bogosian and Marcus Foligno also scored goals for Buffalo, while Jack Eichel tallied two assists. Robin Lehner made 30 saves.
The game began with a pregame ceremony in which Gionta was greeted by his parents, wife and children and awarded a commemorative painting from teammates O'Reilly, Josh Gorges and Kyle Okposo and a silver stick from Sabres general manager Tim Murray. You can watch the full ceremony below.
Video: #G1000NTA Pregame Ceremony
If the ceremony was a tribute from the organization as a whole, the players honored their captain with the way they played. Bogosian said there was a buzz in the dressing room already on Monday morning, and the Sabres channeled that energy into a similar performance as the one that led to a 5-2 win over Toronto on Saturday.
"When we got through the last game against Toronto, we recognized that when we play a certain way and we play that way consistently throughout the game, we have success," Gorges said. "We give ourselves a chance.
"We wanted to make sure we followed that up again tonight, one because we've got to start learning how to do these things night in and night out and two obviously we wanted to have a good showing for Gio."
For the second game in a row, it was O'Reilly who opened the scoring. Eichel carried the puck with speed into the offensive zone on the power play and took a bad-angle shot off the pad of Florida goalie James Reimer, creating a rebound for O'Reilly to bury from the slot 3:21 into the contest.
Video: FLA@BUF: O'Reilly goes top-shelf to bury the rebound
The Sabres added to their lead before the end of the period when Bogosian made a quick pass on the breakout to begin the rush and then ended up getting a shot from the right circle on the other end. The shot beat Reimer between the pads but deflected off the post, and Bogosian raced in to clean up his own rebound.
By the time Gionta scored his goal on a power play 1:25 into the second period, he had already had some chances in front of the net. The possibility of seeing their captain score in his 1,000th game, therefore, was already in the back of their minds when his puck reached the back of the net.
Video: FLA@BUF: Gionta beats Reimer after slick deke
"When he scored the goal, I think half our bench jumped up like it was a playoff goal," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think everyone was pleased to see him get the reward and kind of in a fitting way."
"They were all pumped," Gionta said. "Like I said, I've had a lot of great teammates over the years and that's what makes this game special, is being day in and day out in the battle, in the trenches with these guys. The way that they treated me really made it a special night for me."
After the game, players in the dressing room wore special t-shirts brought by O'Reilly that featured a cartoon caricature of Gionta on the front with the nickname "Gio" and the No. 12 on the back, another sign of respect for the captain.
"I think we saw our guys play with that respect for him in the game tonight," Bylsma said.
Florida would go on to score twice in the second period, first on the power play from Jonathan Marchessault and then off the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau, meaning Gionta's goal ended up standing as the game-winner, an appropriate conclusion for a notoriously team-first player.
Of course, with that team-first attitude also comes an unwillingness to be in the spotlight. From that standpoint, for as much as Gionta appreciated the ceremony and the prizes and the t-shirts, it also came with a bit of discomfort.
"It's always hard," he said. "I'm a guy that likes to be behind the scenes, I don't like to be out in front. So tonight, to be the focus early on for the ceremony and what not, it's …"
"I'm just a humble kid from Western New York and I just try to take it all in."
Notes and numbers
With his two-point night, Eichel now has 55 points in 55 games this season. That makes him one of 10 Sabres averaging a point per game or more this season, placing him in some pretty elite company. Tom Martin from WIVBcompiled this list:
Bogosian, meanwhile, now has five career goals against Florida, his most against any opponentn.
The Sabres play again on Tuesday when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets for the third and final meeting between the two teams this seasons. Each team earned a win when they met on back-to-back nights for a home-and-home series earlier this month.
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Blue Jackets at 7 p.m.